All coronavirus and no campaign rallies. Does Donald Trump have a Florida problem?

Tribune Content Agency

MIAMI — Grappling with a pandemic that has put his leadership under a microscope and kept him far from home, President Donald Trump’s popularity is diminishing in Florida.

Throughout the month of April, with the economy, campaigns and society in general upended, polls have found Trump falling behind former Vice President Joe Biden and struggling to win the trust of voters in his adopted home state. Surveys also suggest Trump is losing ground with senior citizens — a conservative-leaning demographic that is most vulnerable to the severest symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Strategists on the left and right expect the race for Florida to once again be a nail-biter come November. But it’s unclear when or whether Trump will be able to return to the campaign rallies and Mar-a-Lago fundraisers interrupted by the outbreak. And dissatisfaction with the president’s performance during the pandemic could do lasting damage in a state Trump’s campaign has treated as a must-win.

“Trump has had this incredible ability to make people forget his craziness on a day-to-day basis. But this one is too big,” said Ben Pollara, the Miami-based Democratic pollster who ran the successful 2016 campaign to expand Florida’s medical marijuana market. “People are still going to be wearing masks in November.”

Though Trump has made use of the bully pulpit most days this month — with his coronavirus task force briefings watched by millions almost daily — four April polls found him slipping in his home state.

Surveys published by Quinnipiac University, the University of North Florida, St. Pete Polls and Fox News all found Biden modestly ahead of Trump, who’d led in two Florida polls published in March. And three of the four April polls found more Floridians than not disapproving of the way Trump has handled the pandemic, with the fourth, St. Pete Polls, finding Trump treading water.

Polls have also found a dip in support for Florida’s popular Republican governor, Ron DeSantis — a key Trump ally — at a time when other governors are seeing spikes in their approval ratings.

Some Republican strategists and the Trump campaign dismissed the numbers. And even Democratic strategists are hesitant to put too much stock in public polling.

“If public polling was the gospel, Hillary Clinton would be president right now,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Emma Vaughn told the Miami Herald.

But the Biden campaign told the Miami Herald that “in Florida, a key battleground where workers are unable to be paid on unemployment claims and the public health danger has not shown signs of diminishing, President Trump is behind.”

Democratic super PAC Priorities USA, meanwhile, seized Sunday on one of the finer details in the polls: Trump appears to be losing ground among voters older than 65 — a demographic that votes in high percentages and, according to a CNN exit poll, chose Trump over Clinton in Florida in 2016 by 17 points.

One in 5 people in Florida is older than 65, and Trump has found a bastion of conservative support in the Central Florida retirement community of The Villages. DeSantis himself referred to the state Sunday as “God’s waiting room.”

The Quinnipiac poll, which was conducted in early April, found Trump behind Biden by 10 points with seniors. The University of North Florida poll found Trump ahead with seniors — but with half the lead he earned four years ago.

Michael Binder, director of UNF’s Public Opinion Research Lab, said the trends could be consequential, even though it would be a mistake to believe that Florida’s older voters are suddenly abandoning Trump in droves after supporting him throughout his presidency.

“They haven’t left him. I don’t want to pretend they have,” he said, noting Florida’s recent history of razor-thin margins. “The thing in Florida is, you don’t have to have your approval drop by 20 points for it to be traumatic. If it’s just 2 points, all of a sudden it’s a different state.”

The April trends come at a time when Trump has been knocked off the campaign trail, and forced to lock down in the White House, as his administration responds to a pandemic that has killed more than 55,000 people — including nearly 1,100 in Florida.


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.